what i love, what i miss

At our first (brief) faculty meeting last week, one of the permanent faculty members asked me how I liked it here in Dubrovnik, and when I said I loved it, he asked me why. The answer is complicated. I love the visual beauty of the place, which is ever-present and breathtaking. From the view of the ocean when I wake up, to the cobbled stone staircases that I climb down and back up between home and work or play, to the stunning coastline view from the #3 bus home, to the storybook beauty of the Old Town–there’s no place I go here that doesn’t make me want to stop along the way and gawk (or take photos).

But there are other things I love. The food and drink, for instance. This is a region that loves hearty meat-and-potatoes food, but liberally spiced and grilled rather than bland and boiled. A city with a bakery on nearly every block, featuring inexpensive fresh-baked bread, and sweet and savory pastries. A place where you can buy an really good bottle of wine in the grocery store for far less than the cost of an equivalent bottle in the US.

I love that I don’t need a car here–I can walk nearly anywhere I need to go, or take the city bus if I’m tired. At this weekend’s ex-pat dinner, some of my colleagues were talking about missing the freedom of being able to get in their cars and drive wherever they wanted, but for me a car is less about freedom and more about responsibility. It has to be bought and maintained and insured and parked and kept full of gas.

I would like to say that I love the people, but I’m not quite there yet. If I’d made more of an effort to learn the language before I arrived, it might be different. But I’ve been surprised that even when I’m walking along the street, making eye contact and smiling almost never results in a smile in response. I suspect that my blonde hair marks me sufficiently as non-native for me to be tarred with the tourist brush, and it’s clear to me that Dubrovnik has a love-hate relationship with tourists. They love what tourism does for their economy, but they deeply resent the tourists in their midst nonetheless. (And I do understand that. I’m very much enjoying learning my way around the city when it’s crowd-free; I suspect when the first cruise ships begin arriving in a few weeks, I’ll be as quick as the locals to resent the intrusion.)

I also don’t yet love the language, though I’m intrigued by it. And I am *deeply* grateful for Google Translate, which has made it possible for me to decipher otherwise incomprehensible instructions and communicate with everyone from grocery clerks to my cleaning lady. (Yes, I have a cleaning lady. For the first time in my adult life. And only because it was so ridiculously affordable that I decided that just this once I would indulge in that luxury. When I came home today to a sparkling clean apartment, I was very glad I’d made that decision!)

Given how difficult politics have been at work back home in recent months, it’s probably not surprising that I love being thousands of miles away from the day-to-day stress of committee meetings and senate meetings. I miss my colleagues, but I’m happy to have a bit of a break from the daily stresses.

I’m delighted to find that I love my students, already. They’ve got energy and humor and warmth, and my biggest challenge will be to channel that effectively. The flash card program I used last week has enabled me to learn all the names–I was quite proud of myself today for being able to identify every single one of the 18 students in my class (well, the 17 who showed up–but I knew who was missing!).

What I miss, though, are my friends and family in Rochester. More than I realized I would, even. I’m greatly enjoying the Sunday night dinners I’m hosting here, but it’s not yet anywhere near the warmth and love and shared experience of the Rochester village. Being able to chat with people via Skype or G+ helps, but it’s not the same as being close enough for a hug.

I determined yesterday that I can get a flat-rate international package of up to 20 pounds (in a medium-sized box) sent from Rochester to Croatia in 3-5 business days for $79.95. So I’ve tasked my mother with acquiring a few things that I either forgot to bring with me, or didn’t realize I’d need. Those include: measuring cups and spoons (which I’m ordering from Amazon and having shipped to her house), a smaller pair of jeans (yay for my 500-step climb home and 20-minute walk to the grocery store), and two pounds of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee ground for filter rather than espresso. (It’s nearly *impossible* to find coffee that’s not intended for an espresso machine here!) There are a couple of gadget chargers that I somehow left behind, so if Zach can find them in the family room then those can get tossed in as well (my Fitbit charger and my iPad keyboard charger). I’ve been surprised, though that there really aren’t more things that I find myself missing. The grocery stores have a full range of food (I even found maple syrup in one of the stores here, after having been told it was impossible to find in Croatia!).

All in all, the pluses mostly outweigh the minuses, in part because the absence of beloved Rochester friends has been compensated for in the short term by the presence of a dear friend who’s spending a month here in Dubrovnik. When he leaves at the end of March, I’m hopeful that the sense of community I’m trying here will have grown a bit. And if not, the pleasures of Dubrovnik (and, in May, Italy) will make it not so very difficult to hold out until I’m back with my village in June.

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